I didn't sleep as well as I would have liked to last night.
Much has been said about MLK Day and the resistance to MLK Day. After listening to a few of the arguments and positions on the matter a couple things have occurred to me. Whether I'm able to detect a hint of bigotry in people's responses, or if they have rationalized away their responses, there seem to be a few identifying characteristics to that outright resistance or dismissal.
The main argument I seem to hear is that many people don't understand why we celebrate him as an individual when we don't do the same for Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson or Franklin, all men who are also worthy of individual recognition. They focus on some of the individual weaknesses of MLK, citing some truths as well as a healthy dose of rumor and falsehood. The people who put forth this resistance have a point, but it is one that is somewhat easily responded to.
I remember when Washington's birthday was celebrated individually, before the formation of Presidents' Day. The reasoning for the change was simple and the differences negligible. It was not as if we sat around as schoolchildren on Washington's birthday and spoke only of Washington. More importantly, we never discussed his failings. He was discussed only as the Father of our country. A misuse of the word if there ever was one, unless you'd like to explain to the descendants of slaves why their "father" permitted such a thing. If the same sort of reasoning were applied to Washington that we mis-apply to MLK then those who cry "political correctness" in the face of MLK would have to reconsider their grumblings under the banner of "patriotic correctness."
Political Correctness on the left is the evil that they use to abort discourse and advance the liberal agenda. You will hear Republicans crying foul any chance they are given when they sense that there is any "political correctness" afoot. MLK Day is a perfect opportunity for this sort of thing because they fail to recognize that there are no other adequate symbols of the civil right's movement, or the human right's movement, from which we can merge to make a single day of celebration and acknowledgment. Would they be happier if we included Malcolm X in this nationally recognized day?
From the right we must suffer all manner of Patriotic Correctness, it is the form that side uses to stifle debate and advance their rhetorical dogma. They trot out their jingoism and flag-waving to silence any opposition in a similar fashion to the left with its cries of "foul" when any liberal sacred cow is under fire. Imagine the noise they would make if liberals started using Veteran's Day and Memorial Day to instruct children on America's war crimes, and began calling for the removal of these holidays from the national calendar as celebrating war-mongering and those who have contributed to illegal global atrocities, capitalism at the pain of death... You get the idea.
Keep in mind I am neither suggesting nor advocating this, only bringing to light an imaginary reaction from the left that would resemble the one coming from the right about MLK, etc.
Liberals, many of them, in their fierce desire to present themselves as rugged individual thinkers are the most crafty when it comes to denouncing MLK Day and what it represents, because they are the ones most threatened by perceived misunderstanding on this day, you see. Liberals are expected to trot out their tired dogma about the need for equality and tolerance, so the more advanced liberal mind might avoid the actual issue of equality, sensibly, and focus on singular definitions of tolerance as a system of defining "otherness."
Tolerance, as a liberal social concept, is meant to be understood as the counter-point to intolerance, not as a way of defining and marginalizing suspicion of others, but as an antidote to forced adherence to any proscribed way of being, living, worshiping, etc. To promote tolerance is not a systematic way of alienating others, but just as a reminder that intolerance must be resisted, and one way of doing that is to promote its opposite. If one looks at the many evils of the world then this sentiment of tolerance as a resisting force to intolerance is more easily understood and accepted for what it is. The euphemism of "breaking through the barriers that separate us" as a preferable alternative to tolerance can easily be misunderstood as an act of violence or force. So let's not go breaking through anything else just yet... our neighbors might prefer their privacy.
I think many people wish to forget that race is one of the most important issues in this country. They wrongfully believe the problems to have already been solved, yet they begrudge one of the main symbols of that change, MLK. If they don't forget this then they are simply tired of hearing about it, one way or the other. They naively believe that they didn't have anything to do with slavery, all of the advantages they enjoy arrived in their lives naturally and they don't understand why that hasn't happened for others, it must be the inherent iniquity in those others....
I will hopefully stop writing about my experiences with people concerning MLK day after today. But the issue of race is far from being resolved in this country and if those who were once willing to resist outright discrimination, or worse, in this country aren't willing to tackle the source and effects of veiled and barely submerged bigotry then the issue will remain where it is. It could be said that we fought a civil war over race. There are some who begrudge the true victims of that war, slaves, and only see the fallen dead white soldiers as victims of that catastrophe. Those who died nobly for those who were not. They speak of slavery as an annoyance and an unworthy cause of such a war. I am not making this up, remember that I lived in the South. Attend a civil war re-enactement and ask who won and lost the war, and the battles, and at what cost. You will thank me for this advice, I promise.
I realize that at times I have lapsed into self-righteousness and indignation in the last few days. But I can't help but feel that so much of the response I've gotten from my friends has something other than genuine inquisitiveness at its core. Not one of my friends has offered any alternative to celebrating MLK's birthday as a way of recognizing the accomplishments of the civil right's movement and the continued struggle ahead. There has been no discourse about alternative ways of observing those achievements, just a general dissatisfaction with the fact that as a country we have chosen to observe on this date, in this way. No other symbol has been offered as an alternative to recognize. There has just been a collection of observations about MLK, mostly negative. Though, in fairness, some observations have recognized that he was a dynamic and charismatic leader who galvanized a moment and transmuted the feelings of many into a more coherent way of reacting to the injustice of racism. Once they have stated this in the obligatory fashion they then want the conversation to move on. They don't want too much observance of him.
So, the real struggle in this country is against complacency. There is a misapplication of spirit when it comes to dealing with the issue of race. The most difficult base to motivate towards voting seems to be those who hold their own opinions in the highest regard. We live in a time when all ideals are suspect and easily targeted. At least as it pertains to MLK very few have a sense of humor about it, that's both a good and a bad sign. The only art-forms left are those of the satirist, and parody reigns supreme. We applaud the ease at which we can laugh at virtue, and we most highly esteem the arts of reduction and response.
One must consider what it means for laughter to not only be the best response we can offer, but soon, perhaps the only one.